Disability is not inability: inclusive education in Kenya
6 October 2015
by Aletheia Bligh-Flower
I have just returned from a week visiting schools across Kenya, exploring how parents, charities and politicians are working together to get children with disabilities access to a mainstream education.
I accompanied a group of four UK parliamentarians from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Education — Lord Low of Dalston, Mark Williams MP, Chris Heaton-Harris MP and Mike Wood MP. Once we had been warmly welcomed by DFID and the Kenyan British High Commissioner we visited various schools and inclusive education projects hosted by VSO, Sense International, Deafchild Worldwide and, of course, Leonard Cheshire Disability.
Barriers to education
Poverty as a barrier to education came up time and time again, both in the research carried out by VSO and through our conversations with parents and families.
School fees are often prohibitive. On top of these, the additional costs children with disabilities face for assistive learning devices and transportation are well beyond the means of the families. As one young mother told us, ‘When you have a child with a disability, poverty knocks at your door.’
As well as poverty, a lack of trained teachers and accessible schools, and high levels of prejudice against disabled people were raised as being key issues to Kenya being able to deliver quality basic education to children with disabilities.
Ability and determination
Despite substantial challenges there is great hope. Many of the people we met told us: ‘disability is not inability’. Each project we visited highlighted again and again the ability of the children participating in the classes, and the determination of parents who were engaged in their child’s learning.
We met a group of parents learning sign language alongside their children and a group of fathers who acted as male mentors for other dads who had girls with disabilities. All this work helps people overcome the deeply rooted stigma around disability.
We met one mother, herself a trained teacher, who set up an inclusive school in the middle of the slum where she lived. Her own son is disabled and when he started school she realised the lack of adequate educational provision.
With limited resources she now has over 300 children in the school. She organises parent support groups, and education to children with intellectual and physical disabilities.
Commitment to inclusive education
The 2010 Kenyan constitution provides a solid framework for the development of a truly inclusive education system, as it enshrines a forward looking bill of rights in article four.
The commitment to inclusive education from politicians — including the Governor of Kisumu, the MP for Kisumu East, the Parliamentary Committee on Education and the members of the Kenya Disability Parliamentary Caucus — suggest there will be a push for more inclusion in mainstream education provision.
The answers are already there in Kenya. What is needed is for the issue of inclusive education to remain a high priority. It is not enough to be concerned about the issue, nor to have the solutions on paper. It is imperative the sector is adequately resourced and the work already being done for children with disabilities is mainstreamed throughout the sector.
Aletheia Bligh-Flower is global alliance manager at Leonard Cheshire Disability
The delegation visit was coordinated by Results UK, and Aletheia attended in her capacity as the Global Campaign for Education UK policy co-chair.